Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India

NEW DELHI: Google has serious reservations about setting up a self-regulatory body for India’s social media industry to hear user complaints, although the proposal is backed by Facebook and Twitter, officials told Reuters sources familiar with the discussions.

India in June proposed appointing a government panel to hear user complaints about content moderation decisions, but also said it was open to the idea of ​​a self-regulatory body if the industry wished.

The lack of consensus among the tech giants, however, increases the likelihood of a government panel forming – a prospect that Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Twitter are keen to avoid as they fear government and regulatory overreach. India, the sources said.

In a closed meeting this week, a Google executive from Alphabet Inc told fellow attendees the company was unconvinced of the merits of a self-regulatory body. The body would mean external reviews of decisions that could force Google to reinstate content, even if it violated Google’s internal policies, the executive said.

Such guidance from a self-regulatory body could set a dangerous precedent, the sources also said, citing the Google executive.

The sources declined to be identified as the discussions were private.

In addition to Facebook, Twitter and Google, representatives from Snap Inc and popular Indian social media platform ShareChat also attended the meeting. Together, the companies have hundreds of millions of users in India.

Snap and ShareChat have also expressed concern about a self-regulatory system, saying the issue needs a lot more consultation, including with civil society, the sources said.

Google said in a statement it attended a preliminary meeting and was engaging with industry and government, adding it was “exploring all options” for a “best possible solution.”

ShareChat and Facebook declined to comment. The other companies did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Tricky question

Self-regulatory bodies tasked with controlling content in the social media sector are rare, although there have been examples of cooperation. In New Zealand, major tech companies have signed up to a code of practice aimed at reducing harmful content online.

The tension around social media content decisions has been a particularly vexing issue in India. Social media companies often receive takedown requests from the government or proactively remove content. Google’s YouTube, for example, removed 1.2 million videos in the first quarter of this year that violated its guidelines, the highest of any country in the world.

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The Indian government is concerned that users upset over decisions to have their content taken down do not have a proper system to appeal such decisions and that their only legal recourse is to go to court.

Twitter has faced backlash after it blocked the accounts of influential Indians, including politicians, citing violations of its policies. Twitter also locked horns with the Indian government last year when it refused to fully comply with orders to remove accounts the government said had spread misinformation.

An early draft of the proposed self-regulatory organization indicated that the committee would be chaired by a retired judge or someone with technology experience, along with six other people, including some senior executives from social media.

The panel’s decisions would be “binding in nature”, said the draft, which was seen by Reuters.

Western tech giants have been at odds with the Indian government for years, arguing that strict regulations are hurting their business and investment plans. The disagreements have also strained trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.

US industry lobby groups representing tech giants believe a government-appointed review panel is raising concerns about how it might act independently if New Delhi controls who sits on it.

The government panel’s proposal was open for public consultation until early July. No fixed date for implementation has been set.

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